Lolo points to legislative process as best path for needed changes to constitution
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has urged lawmakers to use their authority cited in the territory’s constitution to make necessary amendments to the Revised Constitution of American Samoa because this process provides sufficient time to hold hearings and provide for public input.
There are two ways to approve amendments to the constitution in order to have them placed on the ballot. One is through a Constitutional Convention and the second is through the Fono, where an amendment must be approved by two-thirds of both chambers.
Many amendments to the Constitution were approved by the 2010 Constitutional Convention. However, all of the amendments were rejected in total by voters during the 2010 general election, as they had been lumped together in one question, to vote either “yes” or “no".
At Monday’s Fono opening, the governor told lawmakers there have been efforts in past years to make necessary amendments to the constitution, but they have not been successful.
However, he says more effort should be made, because it appears to be a general consensus that the current political status no longer gives confidence and assurance that it possesses legal sufficiency, not only to guarantee the protection of local land tenure system, but “also to advance our economic and social development goals targeting the improvement of our people’s quality of lives.”
He pointed to the American Samoa Political Status Study Commission report more than eight years ago which called for exploring an alternative political relationship with the U.S. in order to “elevate our status from the perspective of expanded autonomy and authority to handle foreign policy issues directly impacting our capacity to become economically self-sufficient and self-reliant, while holding steadfast to our deep sense of patriotism and our desire to remain connected to the United States of America.”
(Samoa News should point out the report also states there was an overwhelming majority who wished to maintain the current political relationship with the U.S., but also start discussions with the federal government on what American Samoa wants in the future.)
According to the governor, the territory’s economic future is being threatened by China as it is using its economic and financial muscle to create a monopoly in the fisheries industry.
“Our local longline fishing industry is threatened because applicable federal policies create an uneven operating field, giving the Chinese fishing vessels unfair competitive advantages,” he said. “The provision of subsidies by China worsens the situation. The same scenario could someday hold true for fish canning operations.”
Lolo also said it’s imperative for local leaders to assess global economic trends, along with federal policies, and “use our insight to propose appropriate courses of action to improve our efficiency, and commit to the elimination of expenditures which generate negative impacts for the people of American Samoa.”
“In view of the volatility and uncertainty of global and federal trends, it behooves us to be vigilant in continuously reassessing the legal sufficiency of our political status, to ensure that these world changes are effectively addressed by making the required changes to our Constitution and to our political relationship with the United States,” he said.
Lolo reminded lawmakers the territory’s Constitution provides the framework which can be used to make changes to the Constitution, instead of going through another Political Study Commission and Constitutional Convention.
“The Legislature... is empowered to enact legislation to effect changes to our Constitution with subsequent placement as a referendum during the following election with the Executive Branch’s concurrence,” he noted.
The governor urged lawmakers to “take steps” to assess the recommendations contained in the Political Status Study Committee and the decisions reached in the 2010 convention “for possible enactment.”
“One of the critical issues I would like to see considered is the proposed change to the Override Veto Authority of the Legislature,” he said. (Previous efforts to change this provision of the constitution failed when it was rejected by voters.)
He said proposing changes to the constitution through the legislative process provides more time for the Fono to hear community input, comments and recommendations on every issue. He also noted Fono hearings provide sufficient time to get public input instead of holding another convention.
The governor reminded lawmakers that Afoa L.S. Lutu, who is now a senator, had previously served in the capacity of executive director for the 2010 Constitutional Convention Office and was also involved in previous conventions.
He said Afoa’s contribution to the Fono when it comes to this matter will be a great asset.
At least three times last year, Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono called on his colleagues to consider reviewing the many amendments approved in the 2010 Constitutional Convention for consideration by the Fono for inclusion in this year’s general election.
Soliai said he didn't believe there was a need to conduct another convention, but instead for the Fono to look at issues approved during the 2010 convention to be reviewed, debated, and approved for a referendum.
The only proposed change to the constitution introduced last year, was a House measure calling to extend each Fono session from 45 to 60 days. The measure was sponsored by House Vice Speaker Tali Fa’afetai Iaulualo and remains pending in committee.